Do you think about advertising while you’re grocery shopping? Most likely not! I know that I don’t–but I try to do “perimeter” shopping, making a foray into the center of the store only for specific items–like drain cleaner, paper towels, or dish detergent. Where I shop, the immediate thing from the entrance is produce (with a big display of locally grown goods), which leads to the meat and fish/seafood counters; a left turn there takes me past the dairy, and refrigerated juices; another left leads me to frozen goods. If I take a right turn at the butcher/fish/seafood counter, I find myself at a counter of prepared fruits and melons (usually in big quantities that are too much for one). Next in line is the bakery and then the delicatessen. Continuing through those, I end up at the Asian food bar, the rotisserie chickens and other prepared meats, and the salad bar. My usual trek through the grocery store most often involves only a quick dash to the dairy case, then meat and deli. I don’t see a lot of processed food on this circuit. I’d never really given much thought to whether or not my shopping was being manipulated by sales-motivated display methods. The links below contain some information about store layout and methods used to induce us to buy “stuff”–things that we did not come into the store to purchase: impulse purchases.
Meat purchases are pretty easy–thanks to chops, steaks, and a butcher/fish counter that will cut to order; packages of chicken parts, rather than whole birds, and house-made sausages that I can buy one or two at a time. Careful consideration of the dish that I want to make can allow alternative cuts of meet: beef shank instead of large chuck roast for post roast.
The real difficulties come in produce where things are sold bunched, bagged, or otherwise in quantities that don’t fit single-serving cooking. Some produce just grows in too large a quantity–heads of cauliflower, heads of cabbage or lettuce, a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts…waste just waiting to happen unless we make a serious effort to prevent it.
One of the difficulties of cooking for one (or even two) is the produce that goes bad while waiting quietly in the refrigerator for you to do something with it. I love peppers–and I like variety, but I simply cannot use a whole red and orange or yellow bell pepper before they begin to get a little mushy around the edges, no matter how carefully I store them. So do I do without them? Even some ready-to-use packages that are available in the produce department are still more than I want. Buying more than I can use is like throwing money away–and it gets worse if you consider the amount of food waste by consumers after purchase, let alone the waste between harvest and the appearance in the supermarket.
My supermarket likely has something that will help with this dilemma: a salad bar.
If you’ve always thought of it as a place to make a salad with all sorts of veggies and trimmings, and pour salad dressing on it, top it with some croutons, and take it back to the office to eat you need to look at the salad bar from a different perspective. Take a closer look at what’s available there to purchase by the pound–thinking about what you need for a meal, rather than making a salad.
As much as I love salads, packaged greens often go bad before I use all of them. My other objection to big packages of greens is the lack of variety–I simply don’t want spinach as my greens for a whole week. If your market has a salad bar, you can get single-servings of mesclun, spinach, and other greens from the salad bar. I can also get some that loose greens in the produce department–I’ll purchase that either place, depending on what my schedule is and how salad-crazy I am at the time. Since the salad bar usually has several kinds of greens out, I can have mixed salad greens without buying lots of each kind.
I like cauliflower and broccoli too, but again a head of cauliflower is a bit much, so even at $3.99 a pound it is less wasteful and probably cheaper in the long run for me to buy what I need for a single meal from the salad bar–and I avoid having to do the prep myself–added benefit.
My most frequent purchase from the salad bar is bell pepper strips, for salads, and sometimes for seasonings. If I need a lot, for example making the dandelion greens and sausages or chicken with sweet peppers, I will either buy whole peppers, or use frozen ones since they are to be cooked. The salad bar that I frequent usually has a variety of colors, so I can have that without red, yellow, orange, and green going bad in the fridge. (I have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I’m one of the people who will stand there and pick out the red, orange, and yellow and leave the green ones behind.)
I don’t buy tomatoes off the salad bar–I think that the refrigeration changes the texture of them, so I usually get grape/cherry tomatoes from the produce section. They seem to be one thing that I use easily before they get funky.
Onions and whole carrots keep well enough that I buy those in the produce department most of the time and keep them in the fridge; but if I want julienned carrots to make a quick serving for a meal or for a salad–I may just take the lazy way out and use the salad bar rather than the packaged ones in the produce department. That’s my idea of convenience food.
I don’t often by cucumbers from the salad bar since I prefer the English ones–and the salad bar usually features the American slicers so they are not worth the per pound price. Other things that may be purchased from the salad bar include sliced mushrooms, julienned radishes, or fresh mozzarella when you want just enough for one serving.
Another frustration of buying produce for one is fruit. As much as I like cantaloupe, honeydew, berries and other fruit, getting variety leads me to use the fruit side of the salad bar often. I can usually find assorted berries, mangoes, pineapple, and melons there.
Most of the items on the salad bar really aren’t that heavy–and considering that you have avoided the waste of unused produce, it seems to be a reasonable price. Even some of the heavier items like melons, broccoli and cauliflower, are a bargain for me since it allows me to have variety in my meals and minimizes waste.
Not everything I want is on the salad bar, so the solo cook has to deal with more produce than you’re going to use quickly. What are the options?